As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Chase Terwilliger, CEO of Balanced Health Botanicals™ in Denver, CO. After graduating with an MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and having his medical device distribution start-up acquired by JNJ, Chase sought out an opportunity to become the CEO of an organization that he was confident would change the world. Since leading BHB, the team has grown from four employees to 100+, increased product SKUs from one to over 800, and have solidified BHB as one of the top companies in the CBD market with over $60,000,000 in 2019 sales. Chase’s goal is to continue the growth of the house of brands, becoming the largest supplier of hemp-derived CBD and other cannabinoids in the world.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Prior to CBDistillery, I was part of the founding team at a technology company, worked in healthcare and had experience with executive management — all different (but in some ways similar) industries that gave me skills and knowledge that play a part in my current role. I first became familiar with CBD when some friends of mine, Andy Papilion and Chuck McKenney, started an online CBD company, now known as CBDistillery, a Balanced Health Botanicals brand. Given our friendship, my experience in healthcare, and overall interest in the growing industry of CBD, in my free time I found myself helping the team with SEO, SEM, marketing strategy and managing the website. In a matter of weeks, the CBDistillery website traffic had increased by a significant amount and the business was taking off. Given the success and my experience in both healthcare and executive management and of course how invested I was in the success of the brand, when CBDistillery offered me a chance to be CEO of the company, it was easy to say yes. I took a risk, left my current job for a business and industry that the DEA classified as illegal at the time, and jumped right into my new role. This risk turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made as CBDistillery is now a leading player in the space, the true benefits of CBD are starting to be more widely known, and the industry overall is projected to have exponential growth.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
A mistake is truly a learning experience and for that, I am grateful. When we were starting out, we couldn’t keep up with the supply and demand process — we were in need of partners to help us keep up. Given the immaturity of the industry, we ran into untrustworthy people and business dealings. One in particular claimed to have 100kgs of CBD isolate in a warehouse in California (isolate is the pure form of CBD and is used as the active ingredient in all our products, the value of 100kgs of CBD isolate at the time was around $1,000,000), we then sent someone from our team out there, and there was nothing. This happened multiple times, so we decided to put these people through a little test of our own. Our team went out and bought a few hundred dollars’ worth of flower (which looks very similar to isolate from afar), we packed it in bags and took a picture of it and sent it to an isolate broker and said we had 100kgs for sale at our warehouse. Within an hour we had emails and texts from tons of people in the industry saying that THEY had 100kgs of isolate in their possession. It was hilarious! What’s the lesson? You can’t trust and take everyone at face value. Do your research and trust your gut. It may take more time, but eventually you’ll find honest and trustworthy people that have your business goals top of mind and are on your side.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
That’s an easy one, my partners and team. I’m lucky enough to lead a wonderful and innovative company in an evolving industry, but most of the work is really done by our unbelievable team at BHB. We wouldn’t be where we are without them and could not get where we are going to be without every single person who works with CBDistillery. Everyone has a very unique set of skills and is so very passionate, that everything fits perfectly into place.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
From the very beginning we coined the term CBDMOVEMENT™. What is the CBDMOVEMENT™? It’s a push for education and awareness around cannabinoids and how they can improve individual’s quality of life. We are so fortunate to be able to provide a product that changes people’s lives in a very positive way. Our team at CBDistillery has always had the passion to do whatever we can to make sure people are educated on CBD and get a chance to try it.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
2020 was a difficult year for our country, our world, and our company. Pre-pandemic, things at CBDistillery were pretty rosy, with sales naturally growing month over month. With COVID, things changed, and it was more difficult to naturally grow. This was a challenging time within our organization — mainly because it was the first time in our company’s history that we had major obstacles in front of us that were out of our control. To navigate those obstacles, we deployed a number of tactics, however the one that resonated the most with our team and was the most impactful was the simplest of those tactics — communication. We started providing everyone in the company real-time sales numbers, organization goals, a number of other internal KPIs, and most importantly, profitability metrics. This proved to be a great success. People were aligned and it brought another level of accountability to the organization.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
No. There have been countless hard days but giving up isn’t an option. What keeps our team pushing each day is our purpose. We know how life changing our product can be to people. How many people can say they are at the forefront of an industry that is changing people’s quality of life in a meaningful way? Not many, and we are very fortunate.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Number one is clear communication, number two is establishing accountability, and number three is being able to make the difficult decisions to ensure that the company thrives the way it should.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
They can be honest and transparent. I see a lot of companies that always talk about their results in a positive light, it’s human nature. However, doing so is cancerous to your organization. Your teams know things aren’t going well and that the world’s economy is crumbling, so don’t tell them everything is fine. Instead tell them where they need to perform, clearly lay out the plan for the organization, and give them the confidence to execute on the plan.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Be as transparent as possible and provide explanations to why something is the way it is. Most importantly, communicate the plan to get back on track and what must happen to do so.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
The forecasting of the business has undoubtedly been the most challenging aspect of our business over the past 12 months. As business leaders you’re nothing without a predictable business forecast. For us, we went extremely conservative on our revenue projections in 2021, until we see more consistency. This will ensure that you don’t put your business in jeopardy, but you have to be a bit cautious- as this approach can deter growth opportunities.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Control what’s in your control. There are many outside factors that will be obstacles, you need to identify those obstacles, but you can’t control them. Once you identify those obstacles you must chart your own path around them. You can control your own direction, communication and tactics.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Ignorance — Completely ignore poor results or a storm coming their way.
- Right people in the right seats — Do you have the right people in the right seats? Are you willing to let someone go if they aren’t the right person? Most do not and it’s detrimental to the company’s performance and other employees.
- Cutting corners — It’s easy to cut corners on a day-to day-basis, but it will come back to bite you in the future — that’s a certainty.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
For us, the strategy was having control over and a deep upstanding of our financials. If we cut marketing budget by X amount, how will it affect our bottom line? If we lose this position, how will this affect top line revenue which will ultimately affect bottom line growth? Asking 100+ of these questions is a good starting point and will allow you to flesh out the ideal (and realistic) financial model.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Over communicate the results, plan and strategy
2. Control what is in your control
3. Encourage your team, but don’t feed them BS — be honest.
4. Continue to be driven to succeed, the right way. Don’t cut corners.
5. Have a deep understanding of the inputs that drive your business
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“What matters most is how well you walk through fire.” — Charles Bukowski.
An ape can run a company when everything is going well. When the seas get rough –it’s how you lead through the storm that will ultimately define you as a leader. When “walking through fire,” it’s easy to take the path of least resistance, give up or worst of all — point the finger at someone else.
How can our readers further follow your work?